2011/08/21

For God and Country

7652 Fletcher Avenue  and delivered by Dr. Barry M. Mayberry sounded more like a verse in a Dr. Seuss book than a location of birth.  Being the only Air Force brat in the midst of an Army hospital, it set the stage for the rest of my life for not quite belonging wherever I was.

My first physical memory is standing at a 20 foot razor and barbed wire fence in Katterback, Germany, thinking that there were a slew of German soldiers and German shepherds on the other side of the fence.  Hey, I didn’t know that WWII was over. We had one American military television channel and all it played was Hogan’s Heroes reruns and MASH.  My view of what was “outside the wire” was one built only by Hollywood and not from reality.

I remember getting into a blue Air Force truck for the first time on our way back to the states being confused because every other truck I had ever seen was camouflaged.  

STANDARD POST CARD SENT TO MILITARY KIDS FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD. I GREW UP THINKING RABBITS WERE THIS BIG IN MONTANA.

Post Card Received from my father June, 1984: 
Hope you boys are getting all your work done around the house for mom.  Sure wish I could be there for your first baseball games.  Just do your best, no matter how good your team is, even if they are losing; play where the coach wants you.   

I have been trying to get a jack to bring home.  If I get one it sure will enjoy chasing you and Niki around the yard.  Help mom and have a happy birthday.  Love, Dad. 

 

There must have been a class during basic training that taught active duty personnel how to write a form letter to their kids when on tour or TDY (Temporary Duty Yonder).  They all followed the template of:

  • Hope your well/feeling better
  • Weather here is hot/cold/unbearable
  • You wouldn’t believe the size of _____ here, and they eat a lot of ______
  • Sorry I missed your birthday/first day of _____/first ______game
  • Be good for mom
  • Do your homework/chores
  • Don’t fight/hit/mess with your brother/sister
  • Eat your vegetables, there are starving children here in ____________
  • Take your vitamins (okay, that one never happened, but it would have if my dad was Hulk Hogan)

Whenever my dad returned from a simple one month trip  from even the most benign places like Salt Lake City, there would be this re-entry into the family that was more complicated than a shuttle landing.  When you are a little kid and your parent is gone for 1/2 of your short life, the re-assimilation process can be extremely difficult.  Since mom became the general at home while he was gone, a power and rule struggle would ensue and you had to relearn each time what it was to be a fully functional family. 

One thing about my dad’s trips out of town and overseas, was that there was never really a question that he was going to return.  He always blasted home like Santa with German gummy bears, live Maine lobster or Italian swords.  There is an entire military kid generation out there since 9/11 that has had to worry about the return of their parents; I can’t even fathom that since we were blessed with decades of peace.  Granted, there was always the threat of the Cold War, but it can’t compare to the fear of a new tour of duty possibly being your parent’s last.

SCOOTER WAS THE PRAGMATIC AND SAFE MUPPET. PRETTY MUCH THE WAY I LIVE MY LIFE.

I had civilian friends that lived and breathed GI Joe.  I on the other hand cared more about the Muppets than I did about Sergeant Slaughter; I think that fact that I carried around a Scooter doll instead of Duke should have been my first clue that I was not meant to be in the military.

As I got older, I had been carrying around a small level of guilt in the fact that my grandfather served during WWII and my father served during Vietnam and all I ever did was serve myself.

As I reflect on a memorial for a fallen SEAL that I knew from a previous life (college), I recall those actions he portrayed before BUD/S and DEVGRU training.  As displayed by Planes, Trains and Automobiles and the movie Fight Club, you don’t get to know someone really well until you go on a road trip or get into a fight with someone.  He saved me from getting beat by his own friends once and also finished a fight that I had started sacrificing himself before I got pummeled and arrested. 

Upon his graduation, we embarked on a road trip to Alabama.  A few years after this road trip, I let him know that I learned from him that the effects of tequila and Ripped Fuel can artificially make you “Cowboy Up.”  He and his wife had indicated that they learned from me how to dip your fork in salad dressing to save calories. He saved lives, I saved them from calories.  Upon returning to Kansas City after watching the NWMSU Bearcats win their first national championship, I asked him what he was going to do now that college was over.  He said, “You know, I can’t see myself sitting at a desk.”

MAJOR MATT MASON, SOON TO BE A CGI MOVIE PRODUCED BY TOM HANKS.

When my father retired from the military, he was given a flag that was flown at the White House and a plaque that read, “Home is where the Air Force sends you.”  There were some 15 subsequent houses that hung below the plaque showing all of the places he was stationed.  As I got older, put down roots, and started my own family, my view had changed that home is where your family is.  As I matured even more and realized the need to put God at the center of our lives, I now realize that home is with God and in a place where life does not end.  We were not meant to live in this world. 

With the untimely passing of 30 service men and 1 dog, there are family, friends, and teammates all over our country that are now laying their warriors to rest.  I pray that all of those affected by this tragedy are comforted that these men gave their lives for God and country.  As a man that was meant to sit at a desk, I am thankful that there are people out there that God made to be willing to fight. I wasn’t born with the ability to naturally “Cowboy Up,” but I am thankful that some of us were. 

I had been praying for months for a way to give back to a military family.  I still don’t know the correct way to thank someone who has served their country.  I am happy to have had the privilege to know at least one hero in my life; the one thing that was more impressive than his military commendations was his passion to live for Christ and Country.

If you are reading this and are compelled to give something back to a family that has given the ultimate sacrifice, please send a check or money order to:

The Matthew Mason Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 3100, Maryfield, VA 22119.

Or, see the following site for other ways to honor those in the Afghan attack: 

http://hamptonroads.com/2011/08/funds-set-honor-victims-afghan-attack

 Brian

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  John 15:13 NIV

2010/11/04

They’re Back…….My Battle with Man Bugs and and McRibs

THIS SECTION BROUGHT TO YOU BY JUAN VALDEZ

By muscle memory, I load my 1/2 caff Folgers in the reusable K-Cup Keurig coffee filter.  I calmly wait for percolation to commence, slam down the handle, choose the tallest size and press BREW.  No other lights permeate the kitchen except two blue LED’s, diffused by Kenmore filtered water.

WHEN I WAS A KID, WE CALLED THEM MAN BUGS

One tablespoon of raw unfiltered Cooper’s Honey and 1/2 a cup of vitamin D fortified Robert’s Dairy milk;  I am ready for the first drink.  This is when they made their dramatic announcement…..”We’re back!”  I turned on the over-sink light and discovered the solid where only liquid should be.

A Japanese Ladybug floated to the top after a slow death by 190 degree water.  I knew I needed to get the family ready for the swarm.

As a home-mortgagee and father, these pests aren’t near as evasive as the summer bug war I just returned from.  Between trench fighting grubs in the front yard, swarming fruit flies in the house and the full frontal offensive by several species of ants, our house has been a war zone between Homo sapiens and Hetiroptera.  At least this last assault has kept my daughter entertained with lady bugs.

Sugar Ants are docile, walk in cool, calculated straight lines.  I never had the feeling that if I passed out on the floor they would dismantle me and carry me back to their nest. I quickly handled our sugar ants with several Terro traps.  We were antless for a short time until the tiny red Thief Ants came.  These ants were so small that they attacked our cinnamon sugar and butter bell in no time.  We were able to remove the food and put down some more Terro, but that just opened the door to a much more aggressive and large Crazy-Ant.  These ants were on steroids and Red Bull and I was scared they were going to carry my kids away.

We spent the entire summer battling ants while the fruit flies were called in to get us from the air.  We moved all fruit and bread to the fridge and still couldn’t get rid of them.  Of all things, we couldn’t keep them away from our toothbrushes.

I went on such a full assault in the spring on the Sugar Ants that I paved the way for much more evasive ants and spent the rest of the summer on my heels in bug fighting defensive mode.  I found myself wishing that the only problem I was dealing with was the original Sugar Ants.

Every passing year, I find my stresses about life are a lot like home insect invaders.  I can spend so much time preoccupied with a small, docile problem when a much more aggressive/evasive issue is about to take over.  I then reflect on the old, simple problem and wish I could have it back.  Once it all seems to be unmanageable is when the worry and anxiety can set in, and then even the smallest issues become insurmountable.

I know my own signs that anxiety is getting the best of me.  They can easily be spotted by the following:

  1. I want to research the latest electronics and buy something expensive and completely unnecessary.
  2. I want to eat out all the time.
  3. I want to watch post apoctolyptic zombie movies.

HOW IT HAS NEVER MADE IT AS A REGULAR MENU ITEM, I WILL NEVER KNOW.

A combination of being on high alert the past few months, massive Hi Def LCD/LED/3D TV sales,  the return of the McRib, and the release of AMC’s The-Walking-Dead have wreaked havoc on my soul.

I HAVE SPENT COUNTLESS HOURS RESEARCHING ONLY TO COME TO THE CONCLUSION THAT THE BEST TV ISN'T THE BEST THING FOR ME.

Three weeks ago, we carted our screaming kids around a 712,000 square foot furniture store for two hours looking at TV’s and entertainment centers.  We then had a moment of clarity and high tailed it out before dropping $700 on things we didn’t need.  We have just whiddled down our televisions from five to two and adding another television was going to do nothing to bring us closer as a family.  Now that we only have basic cable and no HD box, what would the point be anyway?

How is it that I have literally eaten 14 McRibs in the past two weeks?  I can only explain it as spiritual deficiency.

The moment I wake up in the morning, the doubt, worry, and anxiety starts to begin.  The thought stream of a “to do” list starts and causes me to be a zombie the entire day.  I know by now that if I don’t first turn to God in the morning, the anxieties and bugs begin to take over the day.  It is a difference of getting a grip on the day before the day gets a grip on me.

I pray that the Spirit wakes me up in the morning pointing me in the right direction; popping out of bed instead of delaying the day in nine minute increments until I only have time for rushing and worrying.  I know that no matter what, the bugs are ready to come back and take over.  I am thankful that God has given me plans for the day instead of letting the day crawl all over me.  I am also thankful that the McRib is only here for a limited time.

,

Brian

“When a defiling evil spirit is expelled from someone, it drifts along through the desert looking for an oasis, some unsuspecting soul it can bedevil. When it doesn’t find anyone, it says, ‘I’ll go back to my old haunt.’ On return it finds the person spotlessly clean, but vacant. It then runs out and rounds up seven other spirits more evil than itself and they all move in, whooping it up. That person ends up far worse off than if he’d never gotten cleaned up in the first place.”That’s what this generation is like: You may think you have cleaned out the junk from your lives and gotten ready for God, but you weren’t hospitable to My kingdom message, and now all the devils are moving back in.”

-Matthew 12:43-45 (The Message)

2010/08/15

Fear and Loathing in Lawn Care

ARTISTIC RENDERING OF MY SON STANDING

Being a quadruped had worn out its excitement in providing mobility (crawling) and it was time for a new perspective.  As one knee was held fast by gravity, one foot lifted into position.  As the right foot grabbed hold, his weight shifted and the other foot followed.  The smile on his face showed that this new view of his world was preferred.  Like Sir Edmund Hillary, he now searches out household peaks (couches, chairs, boxes) to plant his flag.  The world is clearer from higher places.

FISHER PRICE - ADULT TRAINING PRODUCTS

Now bipedal (walking), he has moved to his first man-rite:  his very first lawnmower.  I fast forward a decade in his life to where he will inevitably beg to mow the lawn.  Knowing that it will possibly lead to a love/hate relationship that he will have with cutting grass every August for what could be his entire life; I will succumb willingly to this rite of passage.

It may only be 4 horse power, but it is the start of appreciation/understanding of the internal combustion engine.  I too had this dream, not knowing that the simple act of pruning one blade of grass could lead to pride, embarrassment, fear, guilt, envy, loathing and eventually spiritual enlightenment.

25 years ago to this date marked a journey beginning with a 22″” deck human propelled Toro™  to a 90″” diesel propelled Ford back to a 22″” self propelled mulching craftsmen.

Mowing at 10, I was just excited to have access to the gas can.  What I envisioned as the culmination of agriculture, landscaping, and art turned quickly into bagging, sweating, and contempt.

OL' BESSY

The summer before my Freshman year of college, I worked for the city’s parks and rec department.    As other seasonal employees were relegated trash and weed eating duty, I was given a covetous role of tractor mowing.

Pride: I grabbed the keys to my Ford 2600 every morning in the parks and rec shop as other guys my age grabbed their keys to the dump trucks to empty the city’s trash.  Don’t think for a second I didn’t remind them how cool it was to ride a tractor all day long.  Then, one day I was driving way too fast and cracked the crank shaft leading to my lawn mower in two.  I swallowed that pride pill and spent the week on trash duty.

Embarrassment: They temporarily replaced my rear mower with a side mower.  While mowing at a neighborhood city pool, my side mower knocked over a light/power pole.  Of course it happened during adult swim, so at least 100 little kids and 10 lifeguards I knew were standing and mocking me at the fence.  It took a crew of 10 people to fix the damage that I caused.

THE SPOT I ALMOST EXPIRED

Fear: It was the last week of summer.  I was mowing at about a 14% grade/angle and the tractor starts to slip down the hill.   A retaining wall with a 15 foot drop was the tractor’s destination.  I jumped out before the tractor/mower and myself plunged for certain death.  The retaining wall held it back and I had to call someone to tow it out.  I have flashbacks and think about what would have happened if I had not jumped out of the tractor, following it down a 20 foot plunge with three spinning blades.

Guilt: I took over mowing some rental properties in college.  I did such a bad job keeping on top of the lawns I mowed the last few weeks of the summer without charging anyone.

IT TAKES TEN HOURS TO AERATE A LAWN WITH THIS

Like a seed that lies dormant, my grass growing/cutting life went on a hiatus for about nine years.  Then we moved into our first house.

Envy: Lining the entrance of our neighborhood are front to back villas with maintenance provided yards.  The only healthy looking grass we had in our yard was a small portion of our backyard that had the advantage of overflow fertilizer.  It was my first spring with my own yard and I just had to have this lush looking grass.

Stubbornness: That spring also rushed in several hours of research and my first trip to the local nursery.  I bought seed, earth friendly fertilizer, worm castings and a self aerator.  I stopped one of the experts on the way out and told him that I was ready to spruce up my yard.  He told me that I should not aerate because it would only promote weed growth.  Well, I commenced the aerating, altering the pH of my acidic soil and reseeding.  All I had was a front yard of weeds every three inches apart; I should have listened to the guy with a degree in horticulture.

Submission: After dropping an obscene amount of money to “do it myself,” I called in an expert to take care of my front yard.  One verticut, four applications, and one year later had rectified all of my naive mistakes.  At first, I didn’t want anyone to know that someone was taking care of the yard because the neighbors commented on how much time I had been spending on it.  I would grab the small lawn sign off the yard after each treatment and throw it away as quickly as possible.

I PULL ONE WATERGRASS, TEN TAKE ITS PLACE

Loathing: With as little money as possible and seasonal trips to the garden center at Wal-Mart, I take care of the back yard myself.  Last year I was blessed with grubs, so I had to de-thatch and re-seed the entire yard.    I have spent so much time on our backyard that at this point in August, I would rather set it on fire than mow it one more time.

There is not a single hectare on earth where one type of grass grows in harmony without interference from crabrass, dandelion, foxtail or nutsedge (watergrass).  With the help of an expert, I am winning the battle in my front yard, but losing an all out war on my self controlled back yard.

Mowing gives you a lot of time to think.

I have spent a lifetime putting one face out that the world sees: a well maintained lawn.  All the while hiding that I wake up every morning on weed control.

I pray that I can recognize the amount of trust in God it takes to keep a weed free mind and that I continue to plant in good soil.  I also pray that when the anxiety kicks in, I can stop and realize (like my three year old daughter does) that some weeds look just like flowers.

,

Brian

“Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seeds. As he scattered them across his field, some seeds fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate them. Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. But the plants soon wilted under the hot sun, and since they didn’t have deep roots, they died. Other seeds fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants. Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted! Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”

Matthew 13:3-9 (New Living Translation)

2010/07/26

I Am Consumer

SANDRA BULLOCK HERE WITH A ZOMBIE

I have always been a big fan of the apocalyptic/post apocalyptic movie.  It really kicked in when I watched the movie 28 Days Later (not to be confused with Sandra Bullock’s 28 Days) where zombies go from passive/aggressive brain thirsty to all out aggressive super zombie.  We are in an era of ultra disaster movies where humans have little time to react to the problem and then have to wake up in a new reality.  As the tagline for 28 Days Later says,

“Be Thankful For Everything, For Soon There Will Be Nothing.”

ZOMBIES JUST DON'T UNDERSTAND

If it were up to me, Will Smith would only be allowed to do apocalyptic/disaster/zombie/boxer movies.  To set the stage for I Am Legend, our technology has eradicated cancer by modifying the measles.  In doing so, we no longer have cancer, but we shun the light and want to eat the virus resistant humans.  Robert Neville (Will Smith) appears to be the only human left alive and still resistant to the cancer killing measles.  In one fateful suicide mission, he is saved by a woman and a boy who say they are on a mission from God and they are looking for him.  As they sit at his dinner table realizing he is a beaten man, they exchange these words:

CARLTON, HILARY, THE WHOLE BANKS FAMILY....DEAD! JAZZY JEFF IS A ZOMBIE.

.

  • Anna: The world is quieter now. We just have to listen. If we listen, we can hear God’s plan.
  • Neville: God’s plan?
  • Anna: Yeah.
  • Neville: ……..Every single person that you or I have ever known is dead! DEAD! THERE IS NO GOD!

.

This is definitely not the first, nor will it be the last, movie to warn us of our ability to create our own apocalypse at the hand of our own advanced technology.

IT'S NOT A TUMOR

In 1984, The Terminator caused us to pause and wonder:

WHAT WOULD OUR WORLD LOOK LIKE IF OUR TECHNOLOGY HAD SURPASSED OUR ABILITY TO CONTROL IT?

We have always been susceptible to the forces of nature, but never has our ability to destroy ourselves been greater.  It hit me at nine years old with an Austrian accented, “I’ll be back,”  and again earlier this year that our drilling technology has surpassed our capping abilities.  I can explain it by this simple equation:

Moore’s Law (computing power doubles every 18 months)+Murphy’s Law (anything that can go wrong, will) = plotline to every Hollywood man made disaster movie

With the number of infomercials in the past 20 years done in British accents, we obviously trust our friends across the pond, especially when the product has Euro styling.

They (British Petroleum)  sold us several oil spill capping methods that sounded more like Stephen Stegal Movies:

  • Top Kill
  • Junk Shot
  • Saw and Cap
  • Top Kill II (coming soon).

YOU NOW HAVE TWO WAYS TO DONATE!

It became glaringly obvious that the technology/public relations developed in drilling for oil between 8,000 and 30,000 feet below sea level is much more sophisticated than cleaning up the spill at sea level.  I was shocked when I heard that hair was the best cleanup material. It made me do a stock inventory of all of those technical disasters that have peppered my 35 year existence.  From the major disasters of Bhopal and Chernobyl to the more current issues with Toyota’s brakes and the I-phone 4 dropping calls.  We humans have officially put the technical cart before the horse.

Just like every NASA disaster, the American public will need someone to blame.  When I think of what is happening in the Gulf of Mexico, I feel that I can only blame myself.  Most everything about my life can be encompassed by one word:  CONSUMPTION.

I take advantage of every technological advance of the 21st century.  As I do this, I have lost sight of the risks and safety implications of our progress.  On a recent family road trip, I was in the middle of Indiana’s Hoosier Forest waiting for a gas pump to become available.  As I watched a man click the pump for maximum flow, he left his car while his wife got out and stretched her legs.  Not more than 15 feet away stood a man smoking.  The car was obviously full and gas began to overflow.

I ALMOST DIED LIKE THIS IN INDIANA

The woman in mid stretch runs to her car and pulls out the handle and starts an arc of petrol all over her car and the surrounding pumps.  What began as a scene from Zoolander just about ended in disaster.  I can’t tell you how many times I have locked the gas handle in my car and walked away trusting the overflow mechanism built into gas pumps.  I wasn’t even aware those could fail. It has fundamentally changed my gas station habits.

After realizing how scary two gallons of a gasoline spill can be at a gas station, I can’t even wrap my head around the estimated 218,000,000 gallons of crude oil spilled in the gulf with over 167,000,000 gallons unaccounted for.

At the conclusion of I Am Legend, Robert Neville comes to the realization that the only way the anticdote and the other two survivors get out alive is if  he makes the ultimate sacrifice.  He must sacrifice self for the sake of others.  This is the point where he is open to suggestion.  One “sign” of a butterfly in cracked glass leads from memories of his daughter to a  tattoo on a zombie.  This is the point in which he knows what God has prepared him to do.

    • Neville: I think this is why you’re here. [Places vial containing the KV antidote into Anna's hand as he prepares to face the "dark seekers."]
    • Anna: What are you doing?
    • Neville: I’m listening. [Referring to God's plan]

I pray that as the finger pointing in our own real life disaster quiets down, we can realize that God is asking us to be better stewards of the planet.  I pray to be thankful for those technological advances that we have been blessed with, but understand that everything designed to make my life more comfortable and easy comes with risk.  I pray that when Murphy’s Law does strike, we spend more time listening to what God is trying to tell us rather than affixing the blame.

,

Brian

The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants.  Throughout the country that you hold as a possession, you must provide for the redemption of the land. Leviticus 25:23 (NIV)


2010/07/09

1825 Days of Marriage

JOSEPH GORDON LEVITT IS A MUCH MORE TALENTED VERSION OF SHIA LABEOUF

500 Days of Summer

This is a story of boy meets girl.

The boy, Tom Hanson of Margate, New Jersey,
grew up believing that he’d never truly be happy
until the day he met “the one.”
This belief stemmed from early exposure to sad British pop music
and a total misreading of the movie ‘The Graduate’.

The girl, Summer Finn of Chennicok, Michigan,
did not share this belief.
Since the disintegration of her parents’ marriage,
she’d only loved two things;
The first was her long, dark hair.
The second was how easily she could cut it off,
and feel nothing.

I am not one to tout a romantic comedy, but feel that I have had more in common with both the characters in 500 Days of Summer than any other movie.  Throw in a perfectly chosen soundtrack not heard since the 90′s movie Singles, a Bollywood music number to Hall and Oates, “You make my dreams come true,” and you have the makings of a classic little Indie flic.

Now, I would not characterize this movie as the movie that defines my wife and I’s courtship.  It does give me an idea of what type of person my wife has had to deal with for the past 14 years of knowing each other, the last 8 years of being together, the last 5 years of wedded bliss, and the last three years as parents.

The divorce I had seen around me had caused a Texas sized fear of commitment, but at the same time always feeling that I wasn’t a complete person until I had  met, “the one.”

THE EQUATION THAT SAYS IT ALL

When I think of our relationship I am reminded of the forces of nature.  No, not the Sandra Bullock/Ben Affleck romantic comedy, the forces God has put into place to enable life to exist.  Because the only cable channel that still flows through my television is The Science Channel, I understand that there are four forces in nature that enable life to exist.  Gravity (gravitons), electro-magentism (photons), weak forces (bosons) and strong forces (gluons) have to be in perfect harmony with each other or our DNA (life) unravels.  Apparently, the field of physics have mastered mathematical equations for everything but the graviton.

I believe it to be the graviton to be God’s way of responsible for bringing people closer together.  This is why I am still so attracted to my wife.

So, 14 years ago this past fall began what I call “The Great Manipulation”:  My attempt to control the forces of nature to woo my wife into a relationship:

  • Take 1:  There is an amalgom of memories that I have of my wife that includes her being the beautiful red headed girl on the dance team.  She had a care-free inhibition about her that not many others possessed.  The biggest thing about her was that my Eddie Haskel like charm had absolutely no effect on her at all.  This made me even more attracted to her knowing she felt absolutely no attraction to me.  I chose to just play the cordial guy and have since found out that she was slightly repulsed by me all through college.
  • Take 2:  One night I went back to my alma mater to partake in the homecoming festivities, the last year it was socially acceptable for someone my age to be at a fraternity party.  I ran into her on the stoop of my fraternity house and we talked until the sun came up.  This was the seed that would take another three to four years to culminate.  I then realized that I was attracted to the absolutely genuine person that she was; she wasn’t  fake and was absolutely authentic about her own life.  I was a big ball of fake and in-authenticity, but something about her made it easy not to have to be that way.
  • Take 3:  I planted another seed with a sorority sister of hers hoping that it would get to my wife.  I found out later that it did reach my wife, but she wasn’t quite ready to believe it.
  • Take 4:  I planted another seed in a fraternity brother of mine that was around her at all times.  She still wasn’t ready to accept it.
  • Take 5: At this point, I had told myself that if I ever ran into her, I would ask her out on the spot.  Sounds easy enough, but you have to understand that I am just not that spontaneous.  The timing was never quite right.  We had ran into each other several times at weddings and other social gatherings, but the timing was never right between the two of us.
  • Take 6:  One fateful humid August night in downtown Kansas City.  A bar called Jilly’s that I was reluctantly drug to.  I was talking to the DJ and she walked out of the bathroom.  The time was right, so I asked her, “Are you seeing anyone right now?”  She said, “No.”  I asked her if I could call her and if she would like to go out with me.  The seed had finally germinated and she said yes.  Two weeks later and I introduced her to my mother.  Yeah, I know, but it wasn’t as weird as you think.

I really thought I had the ability to manipulate just about anything.  The two worst enemy of manipulators are time and close relationships; One big reason for my fear of commitment.  Time will always expose you for what you really are.  Close relationships often speed up that time to exposure to your true self.  One thing that marriage has taught me is that manipulation only makes things much worse.

My wife has taught me so much in the past eight years we have been together.  We have both grown so much spiritually because of her.  She has taught me that I am in fact not the master of my life and that I need to put more trust in God than my own manipulative nature.  We spent so much time either keeping ourselves or each other at the center of our relationship that we knew that doing that is a recipe for disaster.  I pray that every day we wake up, we keep God at the center of our lives because we know that is the only way to make all of our relationships fall into place.

More life changing events have happened to us in the past five years for me than the previous 29:

  • Married,
  • Bought a house
  • Got a dog
  • changed careers
  • failed a career
  • changed careers again
  • had a daughter
  • had a son
  • Wife stayed home with the kids

As stressful as it all can be, I wouldn’t change a thing.  I think I am here to help my wife navigate through some of the directions and details and she is here to help me to stop and smell the flowers and to see God’s hand in everything.  She does so much for me every day that I definitely don’t thank her enough.  Our house is always clean, are kids faces are always wiped off and she has even stepped in to take over a lot more of the finances, which anyone with a stay at home mom can understand how difficult that can be. Not only that, but she typically proof reads all of my posts.  I didn’t let her read this, so I know it is riddled with errors.

Mollie, I love you very much and thank you for starting me on a path that led me to getting Baptized this past week.  I can’t tell you how happy it makes me that we were able to experience that together.

,

Brian

“A Journey is like a marriage.  The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.”  John Steinbeck

So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.  Matthew 19:6 (New International Version)


2010/06/21

Is Art Imitating Fathers, or are Father’s Imitating Art?

CLOWN FISH: THE GREAT AMERICAN FATHER ROLE MODEL

As I roll past my second Father’s Day in a participatory role, I reflect not on what my family is going to do or say on my behalf.  It makes me think of my own legacy as a father and what type of leading man I want to portray in the drama that unfolds in my children’s lives.
I hadn’t thought of the American problem/opportunity that fatherhood presents until an insightful friend let me know that one of the only movies that he was okay with his kids watching over and over again was Pixar’s Finding Nemo.

Probing further for understanding, he let me know that it was one movie in a sea of movies (pun intended) that portrayed a father as a positive protagonist.

I filed away that thought for many years until one fateful night after the procurement of many Berenstain Bears books. My daughter was past the point of Goodnight Moon and First 100 Words books and was ready for more action and character development.

What better than a group of morally upstanding bears living their lives in peaceful Bear Country?  After about the third night in our Berenstain Bear’s moral tales, I began to see a pattern.  Sure, one book on Papa Bear’s inadequacies as a man/husband/father is good clean fun, but Stan and Jan Berenstain have made a library using the following literary equation.

(moral lesson + bear cubs + sage advice from Mama Bear)clueless Papa Bear/ (Mama Bear disrespect)²  = great learning

First, Papa Bear dislikes the new Beavers that moved in across the street because they work too hard.  Then, the new Panda Bear family moves in and gets the same bigoted treatment from Papa Bear because they are different.

FIND THE DEADBEAT DAD IN THIS PICTURE

His vail of segregationism only lifts when the Mama Panda offers him her bbq’d bamboo shoots.

Yes, Papa Bear’s glutonous activity also gets him into all sorts of shenanigans.  Papa Bear is so driven by his own impulses that he has sleep walking issues that lead him to stealing honey all over town.  Just to give you an idea that I am not a conspiracy theorist, check out Stan and Jan Berenstain’s classic, Life With Papa. Here’s just a taste:

Sister Bear to Mama Bear – “We’ll help out and keep an eye on Papa.”

Brother Bear – “We’ll make sure he doesn’t goof things up too much.”

SELLING OUT CHILDREN SINCE 2007

It makes me think of the positive male dads that I grew up with.  We weren’t big readers, so I was subjected to a lot of Mike Brady and Heathcliff Huxtable.  Once America hit 2000, the sit-com landscape had changed.  In the 80′s and most of the 90′s, dad was still a character that was to be listened to and respected.  Al Bundy and the fledgling network FOX turned that notion on its head and that heralded in the lovable loser generation of sit-com men that spanned across Everyone Loves Raymond, Malcolm in the Middle, Family Guy, and King of Queens. Add central themes of a husband, “marrying up,”  to Homer Simpson and you obviously have hit ratings gold.  Dad was no longer the moral character he once was on television.  The 2000′s also ushered in a new type of dad character: Reality Show Dad.  Hulk Hogan, Jon Gosselin and accidental celebrity Micheal Lohan lead the cavalry on this one.

"SAY YOUR PRAYERS, EAT YOUR VITAMINS AND SPLIT YOUR FAMILY." BY TERRY "HULK HOGAN" BOLLEA

Since we are rid of extended cable and aren’t able to stay up much more than one hour after we put our oldest kid to bed, we don’t watch as much TV or movies anymore.  When we rent a movie, it has to be pretty good to be able to keep us up after 10:00 PM.  The three most powerful movies I have seen in the past year have been strong father themes.  Mickey Rourke gets an Academy nod as a deadbeat dad and washed out pro in The Wrestler.  Jeff Bridges takes the Academy Award for best actor as a double deadbeat dad playing ‘Bad Blake’ in Crazy Heart.  Both movies show men that were once at the height of their professional career, yet failed miserably at the most important job they were given–to be a father.

THE ROAD - FINDING NEMO MEETS MAD MAX

A friend of mine turned me on to one of the best living American writers, Cormac McCarthy.  I was so enthralled with The Road, that I devoured it in just a couple of days. For Father’s Day this year, all I wanted to do was watch Viggo Mortensen’s role as ‘The Man’ from the book.  It is an apocalyptic tale of a father that will do anything it takes for the survival of his son and the species as a whole.  The Academy snubbed him in this role.  This would have been a mainstream win for fathers everywhere.

I do not think there is a mainstream media conspiracy on fatherhood in America.  Maybe our tastes for entertainment no longer have room for a functional family.  Maybe we as Americans are failing as a nation of fathers and our media is just a magnifying glass of the issues fathers have to face.  I looked up some statistics on fatherless homes and there are too many overwhelming statistics to even talk about, so I thought I would list just one:

Children from fatherless homes are 5 times more likely to commit suicide U.S. D.H.H.S., Bureau of the Census

There is hope in that number, all we have to do is make more homes fatherfull.

So, as I clean out our children’s library of all the bear stories that treat Papa Bear like a child, one book, Mister Seahorse by Eric Carle has taken its place.

"YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO TAKE CARE OF YOUR KIDS!"

A story of under sea dads that take care of their kids is about the only thing other than a Chris Rock monologue that I have at my disposal to show my kids that fathers should care for their children.

As I perused my local Hallmark store looking at Father’s Day cards, something hit me as I watched people searching for the perfect Father’s Day card.  I saw people move from section to section not able to find anything that encompassed their relationship with their own father.  It gave me a glimpse of my own children’s future.  Starting at the funny Shoebox cards, moving to the wordy sentimental cards, then over to the children’s cards and there is still no spark of recognition; you begin to see that buying a card for a father you have a strained relationship with can be exhausting.  I pray that when my kids are old enough to choose their own cards based on the relationship I have with them, their trip to the local Hallmark store to pick up a card is not one of strained obligation.  I hope that my role in my children’s lives doesn’t culminate into that default card of a dad bear sitting in a recliner not willing to give up the remote control.

,

Brian

Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.

Colossians 3:21 (New International Version)


U.S. D.H.H.S., Bureau of the Census
2010/06/16

There is a First For Everything

Although Michael Keaton has almost been relegated exclusively to voice over work the past decade, I often times harken back to some fond memories of some powerful movies.

  • He made it okay for a generation of men to step aside and take care of the house and the kids in Mr. Mom (1983)
  • He taught us, in Gung Ho (1984), that the Japanese would be changing our automobile industry
  • If we said his name three times in Beetle Juice (1988), we wouldn’t have to call Ghostbusters
  • He started the 20 year franchise whispering, “I’m Batman.” (1989) And was smart enough to jump ship before the introduction of Robin
  • His portrayal of a sub-leaser in Pacific Heights (1990) made me never aspire to be a landlord
  • Although he rounded off the 90′s with the movie Jack Frost (1998), it can’t diminish the work he did in My Life (1993)

I WAS MORE OF A MC LYTE FAN

My Life portrays a man diagnosed with terminal cancer while his wife is pregnant with their first boy.  He knows he is going to die, so he records important memories and important life stage conversations (like shaving) that he knows he is never going to have with his son.  Throw this in with Queen Latifah’s first mainstream role, and you have the making of a classic.

I AM SURPRISED THAT THEY DON'T HAVE A BUMPER STICKER THAT READS, "MY BABY IS IN THE 90TH PERCENTILE"

My children, 2 and 1, are not quite at the age that their brains are able to process a long term memory.  Although Harvard researchers have found that the magic age for long term memory is 12 months, they must not have studied every father’s belief that, “They are not going to remember this anyway,” when discussing what should be done for a first birthday party.

I believe that if I were not here tomorrow, I would simply be a voice behind a camcorder…an accidental glimpse in the corner of a picture…or a doctored family portrait taken at their milestone ages.  One of the goals with this blog was to provide my kids with a frame of reference on their father’s life and memories of them.

Up until my daughter turned one, most of her milestones were biological in nature.  First tooth, first haircut, first finger food, first time finally re-appearing on a Dr’s growth chart (only after substituting her milk with heavy whipping cream).  It first hit me how important all the psychological and physiological milestones where when I watched her learn to sit for the first time.  Everyone anticipates their kids crawling and then eventually walking, but for some reason watching my daughter try to negotiate sitting in a chair, I took all of it for granted.  Here are some other human milestones that I hope to be blessed to share one day with our grandchildren:

NO MATTER HOW MANY PICS WE TAKE TOGETHER, THIS WILL STAND AS MY FAVORITE

First Portrait of Her and Dad: One day I picked up a book and found that my typical plain  bookmark had been replaced with two smiley faces.  My daughter LJ had given me her first artistic rendering of her and daddy.  I was just happy that she sees me as a smiler.

First Chicken Nugget: The invention of the chicken McNugget and the McRib have changed my life forever.  I am not sure if there is any other injection molded meats that I have eaten more of.  My daughter never eats all of her nuggets and has not yet figured out the value of a dipping sauce, so I always steal the boot shaped nugget from her and use an entire barbecue sauce on it.  It will be a sad day when she eats all of her nuggets.

First Truth: Sometimes in life, you just don’t have clean underwear.  For men, wearing dirty underwear is a risk that we are willing to take.  Apparently, women will defer to no underwear rather than old underwear.  One day we are out of Tinkerbell underwear and my wife has my daughter to not wear any underwear at all.  It doesn’t phase my daughter and she didn’t even mention it until we are in a busy reception area where she declares to the first three people she sees that day that she isn’t wearing any underwear.

First Backfire: I came home one day from work with several colors on my hands from permanent markers.  For LJ, marking on her own hands with markers typically ends in the removal of said markers and timeout.  My daughter noticed the marks on my hands and started to reprimand me as if I were caught doing something bad.  She informed me that I deserved time out and a spanking.  She is apparently harder on others than she is on herself.  This is obviously my first, “Do as I say, not as I do,” moment.

First Discipline: Watching my 2.5 year old daughter take direction for the first time in dance class was a sight to be seen.  As much as Miley Cyrus’s Party in the USA makes me want to cry tears of blood, Butterfly Fly Away had me crying tears of joy.  Something as simple as watching her follow a 90 degree piece of tape can be an overwhelming experience.  Combine timed movement with a song about a father and daughter and you have an out of body experience that takes you to the dance that will inevitably happen the day you give her away.

First Lie: One day I was dropping LJ off at dance class, and an older girl explained to her that she had a birthday cake in her dance bag.  With sarcastic precision, the older girl reached into her bag and pulled out an empty hand and said, “Just kidding.”  LJ looked at me with confusion and I realized I don’t have the ability to always protect her;  Not only the first lie she’s been told while I was standing with her, but the thousands more that she will inevitably have to face alone.  One caveat; I do know that the first time she either recognizes or uses sarcasm, it will be a proud day for daddy.

EXHIBIT A: FACES HAVE BEEN BLACKED OUT TO PROTECT THE INNOCENT. LJ IS CIRCLED IN WHITE, FROZEN ON THE MAGIC CARPET.

First Performance: Something that you need to understand if you have not grown up in a dance family: More work is put into the season end dance recital than most Broadway productions.  During her rehearsal for Magic Carpet Ride, she never got off the carpet to join the other dancers.  (See Exhibit A.)  She just refused to get in the game.  When I asked her why she failed to get off the carpet, she said that a girl pushed her and she was so upset that she couldn’t dance.  I didn’t know that this type of disappointment in life could start so early.

First Performance Pep Talk: I had to orchestrate my daughter’s first pep-talk to ensure that she participated in her dance recital.  Having a pep talk with a 2.5 year old is really difficult because they live in the here and now.  Trying to talk about something that doesn’t involve cake or bubbles within a 24 hour future period is difficult.  It is like telling your dog you are going to wait to take it on a walk the following day.  Their concept of a Julian calendar day just doesn’t exist.

First Performance Bribe: For fear that the pep talk was doomed to fail, I went to Target’s dollar section and bought several toddler friendly toys to make sure I had some positive reinforcement for recital participation.

First Performance Wardrobe Malfunction: The moment had come, time to get off her carpet and line up and finish her dance.  She at least stood up, but a mid stage collision with another girl caused a tiara explosion.  LJ froze standing two feet from the carpet trying to fix her costume.  I learned that even a bribe isn’t powerful enough for an uncontrollable situation.

My 15 month old son has (just in the last week) successfully negotiated the human ability to sit in a chair.  I am excited to see some of those “firsts” from the perspective of father and son.

My almost three year old daughter already has a leg up.  Every night, when my wife and I tuck her in, we ask her “LJ, who is always with you?”  She takes her pacifier out of her mouth and moves her bunny away from her face and says, “God.”

After Michael Keaton’s character passes away in My Life, we get a glimpse of a young child watching his father reading a Dr. Seuss book to him from a television. One of my favorite things about being a father is reading my kids a good Dr. Seuss book at bedtime.  I don’t remember the first time I read to her, but I often wonder about the time she no longer wants me to read.   I pray that I am able to recognize those milestones that usher in a new chapter in my childrens’ lives.  I know that every day I am with my children, I have to let go of them just a little bit.  I just might have to order my own chicken McNuggets.

,
Brian

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.  Proverbs 22:6 (King James Version)

2010/05/30

LOST in Faith

HOW TO DRIVE AN ATHEIST LOST FAN CRAZY

There is something about a suspenseful novel that leaves an imprint in your psyche.  Rarely does a movie do it and even more rare is a television series that accomplishes it.  LOST had the production value of a major Hollywood motion picture, Garden of Eden backdrop, and character development much deeper than the laughable 15 foot well Locke dumped Desmond into.  LOST consistently had me thinking of my own faith and looking to the bible for hints of what might happen next.

'UH, YEAH, CAN YOU POINT ME OUT TO YOUR BIBLE SECTION?"

The only other movie to do that was Magnolia, and that was to explain why frogs began to rain down on Los Angeles.  When that movie came out, I had to go to a Wal-Mart’s book section to find out what Exodus 8:2 meant.  After figuring out how to find a chapter and a verse, it still didn’t answer any questions for me.  Yep, the first time I picked up a bible to read on purpose was at the age of 24, and I had to go to a store to do it.

Looking back,  I believe that LOST is inspired by three of my favorites:

  • TOM HANKS ONLY HAD THE ABILITY TO PLAY VOLLEYBALL

    Gilligan’s Island:  Name another castaway tale, besides LOST,  that includes the ability to play a round of golf?  The natives (aka The Others) were always causing some sort of havoc for the shipwrecked crew.  Gilligan always had the ability to somehow bumble/thwart every possible option to get off the island.  Locke plays the same thwarting role in LOST.

  • Lord of the Flies:  One of those literary works that will stay with me for life.  Shipwrecked children with two split factions led by a Jack and a Ralph.  On LOST, two splinters led by Jack and Locke emerge.  Both LOST and The Lord of the Flies believed their respected islands were inhabited by monsters.  In LOST, they have visual confirmation and in TLOTF, it is merely a figment of a group of boys’ active imaginations.  No matter how many episodes of Brothers and Sisters Balthazar Getty does, he will always be Ralph to me.
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory:  Willy Wonka is a man ready to retire from his magical chocolate factory.  He draws unsuspecting kids into his crazy world only to weed them out one by one with their instilled evil nature.  In the end, Charlie is the only one with the moral fortitude to eventually take over the factory.  Jacob was continuously bringing candidates to the island only to have the island dispose of them one by one.  Had they inserted Oompa Loompas in season 3 instead of Nikki and Paulo, it would have been more palatable.

VERUCA SALT: ALSO AN ALT ROCK BAND

If Hurley isn’t an amalgum of Gilligan, Piggy, and Augustus Gloop,  I don’t know who is.  As a kid, watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I was convinced that I was more like Charlie Bucket than any of the other archetype.  Not because I had two sets of grandparents that slept together in the same bed, but because I had a skewed sense of my own morality.  I now know that I was much more like Veruca Salt (the ‘I want it now’ incident) and Mike Teavee (the kid that gets stuck in the television).

All three castaway tales stem from an issue as old as the original sin.   One of the reasons these stories resonate, is because we find familiarity in the flaws of its characters.  I sure know that I did;  I have gone Hurley on a bag of chips on more than one occasion.  I wanted to be more like Jack, but knew that I was more of a Benjamin Linus.  Sin is built into our DNA.  Don’t believe me? I will let you borrow my one and two year old for an afternoon.

The 7even deadly sins as portrayed by LOST:

  • Pride is excessive belief in one’s own abilities, that interferes with the individual’s recognition of the grace of God. It has been called the sin from which all others arise. Pride is also known as Vanity.
    • Jack was by far the most prideful on the island.  That is why he kept getting called back.  Faith was the driving theme of the last season and is the one thing that obviously kept the cork on Pandora’s Box.  I believe that Jack was the culmination of all of the sins and that is why it took him the longest to come to his senses and pass to the other side.
  • Envy is the desire for others’ traits, status, abilities, or situation.
    • Sawyer was a con man and carried several different aliases throughout the entire series.  Also, Ben Linus takes on the alias, Henry Gale, which is another Hollywood nod to The Wizard of Oz.
  • Gluttony is an inordinate desire to consume more than that which one requires.
    • Once Hurley found the food closet in the hatch, he nearly ate himself to death.  I don’t know if there has ever been a character with a more appropriately voiced, “dude,” since Spicoli in Fast Times.
  • Lust is an inordinate craving for the pleasures of the body.
    • Sun’s purchase of  The Rosetta Stone gave her the ability in one short year to explain to Juliette in perfect English that the baby she is about to have on a babyless island is possibly not her husband’s.  See, things you purchase on TV do work.  Well, everything but Mighty Mend-it.
  • Anger is manifested in the individual who spurns love and opts instead for fury. It is also known as Wrath.
    • This one is a toss up.  I couldn’t think of a single main character that didn’t have an underlying daddy issue that was driving them to wrath.  I will dive into this more after the 7th sin.
  • Greed is the desire for material wealth or gain, ignoring the realm of the spiritual. It is also called Avarice or Covetousness.
    • Benjamin Linus spent the entire time stressed that Locke somehow had a lead on Jacob’s attention.  Once he was able to let go of the fact that he was not the chosen one, he was one manipulative little rat.  By the last episode, I was frankly worn out with the physical punishment always unloaded on Ben.  That dude spent 80% of the show being punched in the face.
  • Sloth is the avoidance of physical or spiritual work.
    • Charlie spent a lot of time (before finally sobering up) in a heroin induced stupor.  He was able to vindicate himself by blowing up the underwater station and go on to star in FlashForward, where you needed a shot of heroin just to find that show interesting.  I hate to say it, but I was glad they offed Charlie after the third season, I am not sure I could handle another humming of, “Goodbye Everybody.”

      PLEASE ABC, FLASHFORWARD INTO THE FUTURE AND WRITE A BETTER SHOW

It hit me this season after the sideways world (where Jack had built himself a son) that LOST was full of characters with unresolved father issues.  Locke’s father threw him out of a building, Kate killed her father, Sawyer killed the man that killed his father for killing his mother, Sun’s father tried to kill everyone, and Hurley’s father, Cheech, only showed up when Hurley won the lottery.  Also, we can’t forget about the leader of the temple people and the awkwardly timed story about him killing his son in a drunk driving accident.  Following a Star War’s theme, redemption with the father or being a father is what drives these characters’ every move.  Even in the sideways world, let’s call it limbo or pergatory, the characters have built themselves a life still dealing with their unresolved issues while they were alive.

WHEN VINCENT SAT WITH A DYING JACK, I THOUGHT BART MAY HAVE BEEN ON TO SOMETHING

That brings me to the climax: the death of Jack and the final meeting at the church.  He opens the casket and it is sans Christian Shephard.  Jack has been spending his entire life trying to receive atonement from his father.  After watching intently to all seasons of LOST, the writers are conveying that there is no earthly father that can save us; We have only one Heavenly Father that can lead us into the light.  Not until the characters were able to trust, have faith, and let go were they able to cross over to the other side.  Why Benjamin Linus decides to stay, I don’t know.  Maybe one more unresolved issue with him acting as a surrogate father to Alex keeps him in limbo.

I have often heard that our first initial thoughts on God are built on our relationship with our own fathers.  Our children come into this world relying on us for everything and I don’t think anyone but Peter Parker said it best, “With great power comes great responsibility.  This is my gift, my curse.” I pray that I have the strength to be able to shephard my childrens’ hearts to the one relationship that can save them.  They will know that as a descendants of Adam and Eve, their mother and I will surely dissappoint them and that our love and support are only temporary.

It was always about Jack (#23), from the moment he opened his eyes on the island to the moment he closed his eyes in a green bamboo field next to a body of quiet water.  Oceanic Flight 815, passenger 23, shephards a group of people to salvation. Candidate #23 goes from a man of science to a man of faith.  The man seated at table #23 for the last supper finally lets go and lets God.    Out of all the candidates, 23 is the only prime number and was the chosen from the beginning to save the world.  The end of a show that should have happened on 5/25, but was moved to 5/23 illustrates how our sins can control our world, but there is hope in salvation for all of us.  The creators of LOST and the Creator both want us to know and understand Psalms 23.

,

Brian

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,

he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD
forever. Psalms 23, NIV

2010/05/20

I want patience and I want it now….

NICOLE WITH A FECES THROWING TOM CRUISE

Regardless of the moral/religious implications, I watched The Golden Compass.  I didn’t worry so much about losing my faith while watching the movie, I just wanted to see what all the hype was about.  It was a $1 Redbox investment, so I didn’t have any expectations.  I didn’t get much from the movie, other than an analogy of what it was like being a parent.

In the movie, each person has an animal version of themselves that follows them around for life.  Personification not seen since Mathew Perry’s Ed, 1996.

This assigned animal has free will and represents your inner most feelings.  When we watched the movie, my daughter was approaching the terrible two’s.  She was a professional toddler, extremely mobile and constantly talking.  She officially became this little creature outside of my body perfecting her own free will.  If you have ever tried to restrain a toddler to a seat in a restaurant, you know what I mean.  For those of you who don’t have kids, but have taken care of someone under the influence for an extended period of time, that is a lot like raising an 18 month old.  They stumble around, make lots of strange noises, and are generally tough to be with in public.

When you have kids, there is this behavioral mirror that is put up to your face. At times, the reflection is of your own anger and frustration.  My kids are a sponge when it comes to our behavior.  The only thing is, you can’t choose what behavior they retain.  Like the animal versions of people in The Golden Compass, your kids can become this physical manifestation of your worst behavioral tics.

THIS IS NOT A CAT

I found that the more dramatic my actions or words were, the more likely they became imprinted onto my kids.  If you are constantly screaming at the dog, your kids will scream at you.  For three months, our daughter yelled at us to get out of the kitchen, which is a common fight we have with our 10 pound Pomeranian.

IT FIT SO NICELY IN MY HAND

Then one day our daughter picks up the most coveted item in the house; she was able to deduct that a block of buttons magically controlled the pictures on our TV.

So, a bear cub first mimics hunting while playing with its mother and my child mimics a couch potato catching up on 14 hours of DVR.  A child with cognitive understanding of infrared technology that is a remote control, but consistently forgets that juice from an orange is painful in her eye and that Yoplait isn’t meant to go in her hair.

R.I.P. CAPTAIN PHIL

We then had a coaxial epiphany.  My 1.5 year old daughter grabs our remote and tries to fast forward through live television.  She then throws an Ari Gold sized temper tantrum realizing that she is going to have to wait for the standard 2 minute and 30 second commercial break.  The quintessential mirror image of daddy.  We then made the gut wrenching decision to pair down our unlimited cable access (after True Blood/Enterouge season finales of course).  I returned our DVR along with several unwatched Discovery channel reality series episodes.  I was able to argue with anyone about who I would rather be in the wilderness with, Man VS Wild or Survivorman.  Two men obviously out living life while I watched safely from my sofa.  When you start watching a show about Lobsterman because you can’t get enough Deadliest Catch, it is time to check into some sort of Ted Turner psyche ward.  No man needs that much crustacean in their lives.

LES IS MORE

I knew that a Higher Power was letting me know that I had to confront my own issues with tuning out to any number of The Hills spinoffs.  How in the world was I to teach my kids the value of patience when everything I want is always on demand?  We never watched anything at the scheduled time and if we did, we would tape it, watch something else DVR’d for 20 minutes until we had the ability to fast forward through all of the commercials.  This behavior actually led me to instinctively thinking I could rewind my car stereo when I missed something on NPR.  With as slow as they talk on NPR, you should be able to catch everything they say.  We had become DVR zombies.

As a kid, it took agonizing patience to have to wait for our favorite Saturday morning cartoons.  If you wanted to tape something that you weren’t going to be home for, you had to have master’s degree to figure out how to program the the VCR .  TiVo instinctively tapes for you and a three year old knows how to DVR something…where is the challenge in that?

“Sorry Billy, Happy Pony is on, and I am not missing Happy Pony.” – Video about the value of having AT&T U-Verse and the ability to tape and watch DVR on four separate set tops.

I WISH DENISE WOULD MAKE ME A COOL SHIRT

If watching television was the last activity that a 20th century family enjoyed, what are families that have multiple DVR points doing together?  This is a question coming from a guy who was bribed to move to Nebraska in 1985 with cable in his room. We at least still came together to watch The Cosby Show and Knight Rider.

When we moved into our house about six years ago, the previous family that had it built never had cable.  I thought they were crazy, but did notice the one thing they had in their house that not many others did….bookshelves.  There’s a novel thought (pun intended).

We currently get channels 1-23.  That leaves about six watchable channels.  They just replaced The Style Network with WE (Women’s Entertainment), so it went from bad to worse.

I pray that reruns of The Golden Girls and Bridezillas on WE don’t drive me to succumb to any number of, “Six Month Free,” offers for 250 channels and multiple DVR boxes.  Cable is a little like junk food, if it isn’t in the house, we won’t eat it.  I know the toll of an “On Demand” world while dealing with my own MTV (circa 1995) like attention span and pray that my kids can make it until college without needing cable.  I can already hear it now, “Nana let you have cable in your room when you were in 5th grade.”

I can’t tell you how many times I would watch ESPN until it went off the air.  Currently, 22 channels adorn the flagship of ESPN, with a 3D channel starting in June and they never go dark.  There was something satisfying and final about seeing the star spangled banner followed by an off the air message.  My kids will never be a part of a world that thought networks should have one channel and that the one channel should stop programming at 2:00 in the morning.

I do occasionally have cable flashbacks and really want to just sit down and relax and catch an episode of Dirty Jobs.  I now only get Mike Rowe in 30 second commercials for Ford.  I have no idea how Jack Bauer is doing and I sometimes have to watch LOST at 5:00 AM on my computer if I can’t get the kids to bed by 8:00 PM.

Had I not grown up before the proliferation of frozen pizza, the microwave, and the VCR, I believe the level of my patience would be even lower than it is today.  If there is any behavior that I hope to modify for my kids sake, it is that a life that is built on demand isn’t a real life at all.  Patience is one of the hardest fruits of the spirit for me to cultivate…I hope my kids grow up to be better farmers.

,

Brian

….knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.  -James 1:3-4 (New King James Version)

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.  -Proverbs 22:6 (King James Version)

2010/05/06

“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas Anymore?”

Kansas = Reality

IMDB.com has cross referenced The Wizard of Oz  over 1500 times in television and movies since 1939.  When an actor says, “We’re not in Kansas anymore,”  it means that they are in a a surreal situation and they use the state of Kansas as their standard for reality; it is a safe analogy that a good percentage of the population will understand.

Western Kansas can be flat and colorless

Even Toto sees in color!

Dorothy begins her reality in a black and white Kansas, only to wake up in a technicolor Oz.

The movie Avatar not only references the, “Kansas equals reality,” analogy in its movie trailer, but begins its color palate in the same fashion.

Kansas 2150

Nebraska, God's country

The drab world of Jake Sully in grays and blacks turns into a colorful Pandora once plugged into his blue doppelganger.

As people are flocking to Red Box to re-visit James Cameron’s Pandora, I think of one of the first virtual reality themed movies, The Lawnmower Man.   Jobe  is a  mentally handicapped man that with the aid of virtual reality becomes super intelligent.  Jobe goes from a docile Forrest Gump type  to becoming stuck in a computer with a god complex, access to the internet, and a chip on his shoulder.    When I watched the movie back in 1988, we were reading Flowers For Algernon in my 8th grade english class.   The book’s plot line is similar to The Lawnmower Man, where the protagonist’s IQ jumps with the aid of western medicine.  It too ends tragically, teaching us that artificially inflating human nature is a recipe for disaster.
At the conclusion of this book, our teacher proposed this moral question:

Would you be willing to take a pill that doubled your intelligence, but guaranteed a shorter life span by 10 years?

At the time, my answer was a resounding, “Yes!”  Even with reading/watching two cautionary tales of artificial intelligence, I thought the risk was worth it.

The Lawnmower Man was one of the first movies to explore the hidden relationship dangers of playing video games.  Remember, this movie came out in 1987, not 2007.  I feel like you could replicate this movie’s conversation today with all of us husbands out there playing Call of Duty on Xbox360.

Caroline: You said you were going to take me to the city this weekend. But instead you just hooked up to that machine.
Larry: Why didn’t you remind me?
Caroline: I did.
Larry: This is the future. And you’re afraid of it.
Caroline: Well, it may be the future to you, Larry, but it’s the same old shit to me.

Other movies warning that anything but reality is dangerous:

  • Weird Science:  No matter how many movies/series Bill Paxton does, he will always be ‘Chet’ to me.  A computer generated Kelly Lebrock shows us that we can’t manipulate our own reality.
  • Total Recall:  Arnold can’t figure out what part of his life is real and what is part of a virtual vacation….probably a lot like being the Governor of California.  Either way, Sharon Stone and all of Mars wants to kill him.
  • The Matrix:  Neo opts for the red pill over the blue pill and unplugs from the matrix.  The red pill offering a dirty human reality, or the blue pill offering him a programmed world.  I wish there was a pill that I could take to help me forget The Lake House.
  • Others following the same plot line that anything other than reality is badDisclosure, The Net, Vanilla Sky, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Virtuosity.

I too understand the pull of the digital world.  In the early 80′s, my family subscribed to Run magazine, and in our free time we would code video games while taping it on a cassette recorder.  Yeah, it sounds kind of nerdy in retrospect.  My mom denies that it ever happened, but I have fond memories of her debugging code by the flickering light of our wood burning stove.  Ahh, 20th century memories.

We owned computer games that most kids could only play while their parents were shopping at Sears. I was convinced that the Texas Instrument I had in my room in 1983 was going to ask me to play Global Thermonuclear War.

Would you like a Jello pudding pop and a computer?

My first Leap Frog

With Nintendo, we quickly learned that Lawrence Taylor was the best player in all of Tecmo and that you can only defeat Mike Tyson after a blink of his eyes.  I pushed my carpal tunnel to the limit with Mortal KombatResident Evil was so real that when I saw things move in my peripheral vision, my first instinct was to shoot it.  Before 2003, my loftiest goal was to beat Max Payne.  I spent a lot of time between 1981 and 2003 using games as a means of escaping reality.

Around 2003, I purchased SIMS: Double Deluxe Edition.  I was a virtual failure at the game and kept setting myself on fire.  An ironic epiphany hit as I washed my characters digital dishes while dirty dishes piled up in a sink no more than five feet away.  I then took a break from my digital self, until gaming took one gyrating leap forward.

In 2007, we bought a Wii.  In 2008, we sold the Wii. I had made a Wii avatar for everyone in our family.  I thought my wife would love playing tennis with characters that looked like us.  I was wrong.

  • Can I have some sour patch kids and a Prozac?

In 2009, Hollywood reverses its stance on reality with James Cameron’s AvatarThe Matrix, a decade ago, was all about taking the red pill to play on our need to unplug and be more human–no matter how dirty that may be.  Avatar, in 2009, is now telling us that taking the blue pill and becoming anything but human is what makes us more alive.  Add that to the 3rd dimension and people begin reporting Avatar Blues” because Pandora was so immersive.

No matter what life has in store, I pray that I have the strength to keep taking the red pill to face the pain and ugliness that comes with being human.   Choosing the human route may appear to be the more painful one, but it is the only one with true joy and hope.  If Dorothy can opt for the tornado ridden black and white life of Kansas, so can I.  I know that it is up to me to make my world more colorful by making my life more meaningful.  There is no magic pill for that equation.

The reality is that we don’t have a cheat code for life that gives us 30 chances.  Hollywood has even shown us time and time again that any running from the suffering we must face as humans leads to a tragic fate.  We’ve got one shot at making it a real experience because anything else is just computer generated.

,

Brian

Then he told them what they could expect for themselves: “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat—I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?  Luke 9:24-27 (The Message)

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